you know what summer means
Summertime is right around the corner, depending on where you are located, summer might already be under way. Summertime for kids is the epitome of relaxation and fun, for parents it’s trying to keep your kids busy and for the church world it means Vacation Bible Schools and summer camps. Over the years, the term “VBS” has come to mean a lot of different things for different churches. There are a variety of summer style events that might be referred to as Vacation Bible School, even though they vary greatly in style.
For the purpose of this article, I will refer to all Vacation Bible School style events from here on out as VBS; you can imagine your own event within that framework. Regardless of the differences that the acronym VBS has come to mean, there are a lot of things it means to everyone. It means kids, fun, summer, Jesus, games, friends, and so much more.
vbs is iconic, but is it relevant?
VBS is iconically a church summer time activity, much like ‘I Love Lucy’ is iconically 50’s or Christmas colors are iconically red and green. The problem with things that become iconic is that they often do not change. They are preserved in their glory, and then they fall from glory because something more innovative comes along and replaces it. Iconic things are still appreciated for the role that they held, but they aren’t celebrated as they once were.
VBS has been around in some capacity for over one-hundred years. It’s possible that your own church has been hosting a VBS each summer for 20 or 30 years. If this is the case and you are still effectively reaching your goals and your community, then kudos to you. However, it’s possible that your VBS has lost some steam, or it’s even possible that as a church plant or growing ministry, that you have never hosted one before. So, let’s talk about some of the things you should continually be considering before you host your next VBS.
four things you need to ask before you plan your vbs
#1 what’s the goal and purpose in hosting your vbs style event?
Your ministry has to determine what’s the goal and the “win” for hosting VBS another year. This is a question you should ask every year before you choose to host your VBS again. Reasons like “because we’ve always hosted one” or “because my pastor says we should” aren’t good enough.
Anytime you are going to spend human and monetary resources it should be done with great intent. The “why” provides vision, direction, and inspiration to all who are involved. Below we’ve listed some possible reasons that you might come up with for why you put on this huge event. However, you might not resonate with one of these goals, and that’s perfectly fine, the point is that you are coming to your own conclusion for why this event is valuable to your ministry.
Here are some common purposes for why you might host a VBS:
- To create an on-ramp for new attendance. Kids that wouldn’t typically attend your church might come to a VBS.
- To further educate the current children attending your ministry and help their Bible knowledge and faith to grow.
- To create an intense spiritual encounter for the kid’s in your ministry to experience.
- To increase community engagement by providing a fun atmosphere for people to drop off their kids.
#2 who do you plan on attending?
As you begin to answer the first question about the purpose and goal of your VBS, it will often begin to answer this second question as well. However, if your goal planning doesn’t guide you to think about your attendees, then your team needs to intentionally ask who do you plan on attending.
One of the biggest complaints that people have about VBS events is that they become a babysitting drop off for Christian parents who want a break, while simultaneously giving their kids another opportunity to learn more about the Bible. I talk a little more about this in my post about how to create a VBS that reaches more than just church kids. However, you might be completely fine with your VBS being a discipleship event for local church attendees (even ones that don’t usually attend your church) or you might not be ok with that.
Either way, you need to talk about who you want to attend as well as who you anticipate will attend regardless of your plan. The reason you want to talk about this beforehand is you can often somewhat control who does attend by how you advertise the event and the language you use to promote it. If you are at a larger church, and you don’t list or post the event in a public way, but you HEAVILY push your own church family to bring friends, you will likely get your own kids in attendance and possibly their friends.
If you charge for the event, you are less likely to get random drop offs. On the flip side if you love the idea of being a summer hub for local Christian families, then you will promote heavily everywhere including local Christian schools and online. Who you plan on attending should affect the curriculum you choose to use and so much more.
#3 how much do you want to spend?
There’s nothing worse than when your needs or expectations don’t line up with the budget that’s actually available to you. This is why at your first possible convenience you need to take an inventory of how much you plan to spend. You need to consider snacks, crafts, supplies, shirts, curriculum, stage design, lanyards, advertising, signage and every other thing you can possibly consider.
If you don’t have a large budget available to you, don’t be deterred from hosting a VBS, but you do need to plan accordingly. You might need to consider charging per attendee, or asking people to donate needed items ahead of time. You also could save money by reusing a previous year’s theme or writing your curriculum. You could even consider partnering with another local church, to have a larger and more cost friendly event.
If money isn’t an issue, then go all out. Make sure you plan in extra spending for wonder and fun. Rent a video game truck or a huge bounce house for several days. Consider having snacks that send kids running to invite their friends for the next day and inspires your volunteer force to post photos to Instagram (think: make your own banana sundae or Chick-fil-a waffle fries for every child). Consider giving away awesome prizes like iPads and bikes, if money isn’t an issue, then use your resources to the max to increase participation and fun.
#4 how much time do you have to prepare?
Asking how much time you have to prepare is a hugely important question because nothing is worse than committing to more than you can actually deliver. I always tell everyone to under promise and over deliver. People lose confidence in you if you don’t bring your best to the table. I know several of the VBS curriculums provide a timeline that has you planning six months or more in advance. This is a great idea, but this isn’t always practical either.
The first day you even begin to think about your VBS, write down your own list of things you need to accomplish to pull the event off, then give a time estimate for how long most of the steps will take. This will give you a framework for when you need to get moving.
my own rush job and what i learned
Several years back my pastor asked me to host a VBS style event for the first time in years. He asked me right before Kid’s Camp, which we hosted and ran for five other churches. I started lightly planning while simultaneously planning for Kid’s Camp, making sure most of the larger ideas were set in motion. Hosting a last-minute VBS wouldn’t have been that crazy except that I chose to write our curriculum because that worked better for us at the time. So, it wasn’t until late June that we dove head first into the planning of an event that was only a month out. Some people might think that was crazy, but I had a volunteer force to help me pull it off.
However, I wish I had better known how much time I would need to prepare because I would have started preparing further in advance. This is your chance to consider your preparation, so think hard about it. Ministry is demanding, it’s the carousel that doesn’t stop. With this in mind, you should choose an appropriate curriculum and plan so that whatever you do can be done with excellence. Not only does this make your church look awesome, but it makes your God look pretty good too. Don’t forget HE is the reason we put on our shows every weekend.
You have the chance to make your church’s VBS something so much better than iconic. You have the opportunity to make it new, fresh, relevant and life-changing. So, if you commit to doing it, then grab a team and do it all the way. Happy Planning!
Chief Creative Officer
Stacia has over a decade of ministry experience, with the majority of that time leading next generation change. She has experience leading almost one hundred volunteers, and developing curriculum for kids and students. Stacia has a B.S. in Church Ministries and Biblical Studies, as well as experience educating in an elementary public school environment. She is also immensely creative and accomplished in teaching children about the wonder of God.